The Ripken ethic

In Men at Work, George F. Will began his celebration of baseball defense with a tale of Cal and Bill Ripken turning a rally-killing double-play while their father watched from the visitors’ dugout in Toronto — and concluded with an appropriately blue-collar ending:

“After the third out the two Ripkens ran off the field, same pace, arms held in the same position, forearms cocked slightly above parallel to the ground, eyes straight ahead, looking into the dugout. They ran past their father, the third-base coach. It was just another night on the factory floor for the Ripken men…”

Cal Ripken’s induction into the Hall of Fame last month — along with Tony Gwynn, the San Diego Padres’ hitting machine — was a cleansing moment in baseball’s ongoing season of shame. Yes, the steroid use is way down (as is the musculature of players I won’t mention). But the memory of decade-long cheating lingers and festers, the wound made worse by denial on the part of some and scurrying-for-the-high-grass on the part of others. Seeing Ripken and Gwynn, two regular guys, enter the Cooperstown aristocracy on the merits, period, was a happy reminder of better days.

Or at least the pious memory of better days. For cheating has been part of baseball from the git-go: corked bats, scuffed balls, spitters. Still, there was something different about the steroid scandal, no matter how hard it may be to define that difference. Traditional baseball skullduggery was both clandestine and out-in-the-open: the corked bat broke and the batter was ejected; the thumb-tack or Vaseline on the brim of the pitcher’s hat was spotted, and he, too, got the heave-ho from the men in blue. Crime, trial, verdict, and punishment were there for all to see. The steroid scandal was about furtive injections in the dark recesses of the clubhouse, and then getting caught by urinalysis. The yuck factor was higher, reflecting a sound moral intuition about the higher gravity of the offense.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a column about Cal Ripken, not about steroids. Cal, as everyone in the State of Maryland calls him, was the son of a lifelong baseball man whom Dr. Will once described thus: “Cal Ripken, Sr., smokes Lucky Strikes and drinks Schlitz beer. The Luckies are not filtered and the Schlitz is not light. He is a former minor league catcher who looks like something whittled from an old fungo bat…” The Luckies finally killed him, a few years ago; but long before, Cal Ripken, Sr., had given both of his baseball-playing sons something even greater than instruction and support: a respect for the game. It’s the same respect the brothers Ripken now try to teach youngsters at their baseball academy in Aberdeen, Maryland, a respect built on hard work, sound fundamentals, and the slow development of that sixth sense called “baseball smarts.”

A lot of which is, alas, in short supply in today’s pastime. The corruptions of baseball in 2007 are not just (or perhaps even primarily) chemical. How many times have you seen a bunt properly laid down in recent years? Or a hit-and-run smoothly executed? How often have you watched a multi-million-dollar-per-year player forget how many outs there were in the inning? Or fail to run out a ground ball? Money — lots of it, showered on people too young to know how to handle it — has something to do with this. But so does a decline in respect for what Will called, aptly, the “craft of baseball.”

Cal Ripken, Jr., could be mulishly stubborn: had he listened to batting coaches, his lifetime average might have been twenty points higher. But no matter how mired in a sometimes-self-perpetuated slump he was, you always sensed his respect for the game, his determination to live the work ethic his father had taught him, and the intensity of his competitive spirit. A power-hitting fielder of genius, he redefined the position of shortstop; but he was essentially a throwback who exemplified the cardinal virtue of fortitude.

In other words — a good man, in moral as well as sporting terms.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash